Monosyllabic Eccentricity

Title: A Yule Carol
Author: Shannon
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Post New Moon Rising
Summary: Willow is visted by three ghosts.
Disclaimer: The idea belongs to Scott. The situation belongs to Dickens. The characters belong to Whedon. Wow, I'm batting a thousand here.
Author's Note: Just a warning, my expertise in Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is limited to Jim Henson's version


    Amy was a rat, to begin with.  In life, she was the magic partner of Willow Rosenberg.  We meet the later in her bedroom, in her parents house, studying diligently for next semester.  Somehow, her parents had managed to persuade her to come home for the holiday.  The alarm clock on her dresser read midnight, and she closed her book to go to bed.
    A breeze blew Willow's hair into her face as the wind suddenly picked up outside.  She moved to the window, wondering why she hadn't realized her parents had left it open.  She knew why they hadn't realized, of course.  She closed it tight.  "Willow..." came a whisper.
    "Just the wind," she assured herself, even as she heard her name again. 
She turned from the window to see a woman sitting on her bed.   "W-w-w-w-w-w-w-w-w-"
    "Willow, it's me.  Amy."
    Willow found her voice again.  "You can't be Amy.  Amy turned herself into a rat!  Why are you here?"
    "They made me human to warn you."
    "Warn me of what?"
    "Tonight, you will be visited by three spirits."
    "As if this wasn't freaksome enough," said Willow.
    "Without the help of these spirits, you have no hope to understand the true meaning of Christmas."
    "Amy...I'm not Christian.  I'm not even Jewish anymore.   If anything, I'm wiccan.  You were the one who started me on that, remember?"
    "Expect the first ghost when the clock strikes one, Willow," shouted Amy as a mist surrounded her.  "When the clock strikes one!" she repeated airily as she dissolved into nothing.
    WIllow looked at Amy's cage.  The rat was fast asleep in her burrow. 
"Whoa," said Willow.  "That's the last time I'm letting Xander talk me into watching 'Scrooged' over cold pepperoni pizza."

*****

    BEEEEEEEEEEEPPP!!!
    Willow threw the covers off of her.  "I'm up, I'm up!   Happy Chanukah."  She scrambled out of bed to the still buzzing alarm to turn it off, but it had stopped on its own.  Standing with her hand on the snooze bar was-
    "Miss Calendar?"
    "Blessed be, Willow."
    "Hi, I mean, blessed be, I mean...you're dead."
    Jenny Calendar just stood there and smiled.  It was very unnerving.  "I am the ghost of Christmas past."
    "But I'm not Christian," said Willow.
    "I know that, honey.  But it is the 24th of December, and it's a lot easier to say that than 'the ghost of December the 24th past,' isn't it?"
    Willow nodded.  "I guess so.  Why are you here?"
    "Your welfare."
    "A good night's sleep will do me loads of good, I promise.   Come on, I've already had one freaky dream tonight.  I don't need another."
    "We have a lot to do, Willow.  Come."  Miss Calendar grabbed Willow's hand, and they both began to float.  Willow muttered gibberish as the window opened by itself and they glided out of it.
    "Miss Calendar, it's night.  What's that light up ahead?"
    "It is the past."
    "You can't mean-we're not going to...NO!"
    And then she was on the ground.
    "Do you remember this place, Willow?"
    "It's-it's Sunnydale High School.  My high school.   But...w-we blew this up more than a year ago."  Her hands ran over the too familiar walls.  "How can this be?"
    A bell rang, and students filled the hall, on their way home for winter break.  "Buffy!" shouted Willow, seeing her friend emerge from a classroom.   "Buffy, over here!  Xander!"
    Miss Calendar put her hand on Willow's shoulder to calm her.   "These are but shadows of things that have been.  They can neither see nor hear you, Willow."
    "Great," sighed Willow, "another Dickens reference."
    Willow, a younger Willow, came into view.  "Buffy!   Buffy, over here!  Xander!"  She was suddenly caught off balance as someone bumped into her.
    "Sorry," said Oz, helping to pick up the books she had dropped, thanks largely to him.
    "Hey, Oz.  It's okay.  Really.  Thanks."
    Oz blushed a little.  "No problem."
    "So...are you going away for the holidays?"  Things were getting awkward. The Willow with Miss Calendar smiled slightly.
    "No, I'll be here."
    "Well, that's good!  Unless you were hoping to go away, in which case it's not nearly so good.  In fact, it'd be downright bad."
    "No," said Oz.  "It's good."
    "Then...do you maybe want to get together?"
    Oz stood silent.  "Sure," he said, finally.
    "Okay.  So I can call you, or you can call me, or e-mail, or..."
    Miss Calendar stepped into her Willow's view.  "Come, there is much to see."
    "But-"
    Her protest did no good.  This past faded away to be replaced by another. The lights were soft.  Barry White played in the background.
    "Where are you going?" asked another young Willow.
    "No, I'm not going. Just a dramatic gesture. That's, that's pretty special."  The older Willow blushed, realizing what she must have just asked him.
    The younger girl stood up, to face Oz.  "Oz, I-I wanna be with you. First."
    He looked so bewildered.  "I think we should sit down again."
    "Oz?" she asked, taking his advice.  He was so worried about her.  Even someone who didn't know him could see that.  "I-I'm ready"
    "Okay. Well, don't take this the wrong way...but I'm not."
    "Are you scared? 'Cause I thought you had..."
    "No, I have, but this is different. I mean, you look great. You know, and, and you got the Barry working for you, and, and it's all...good. But when it happens...I want it to be because we both need it to for the same reason. You don't have to prove anything to me."
    "I just wanted you to know."
    "I know. I get the message."
    As they kissed, the elder Willow started to sob.  "He was so good to me," she said softly.
    "One more," said Miss Calendar.
    "No," said Willow.  "Why are you doing this to me?   I'm happy!  HAPPY!  Why are you taunting me like this?  I'm just as happy without him."
    "Are you really?"  The scene faded away.  It was just last year now, in her and Buffy's dorm room.  Buffy was tidying up furiously.   Riley must have been on his way.  "Deck the halls with boughs of holly--take it, Will!"
    The Willow they had come to see was lying in bed, moping.  She was better than she had been a few weeks ago, it was true, but she still wasn't quite back to normal.  "I'm not Christian," she said bitterly.
    "But this isn't a Christmas carol, Will.  It's a Yule carol.   'Troll the ancient Yuletide carol.'  You know, Yule, the witch Christmas."
    "Maybe I don't want to sing," said Willow.
    Buffy went back to singing.  She stopped when she saw a picture of her Mom.  "Oh, yeah, Wills!  My Mom wanted to know if you were coming for Christmas dinner.  I know, I know, you're not Christian.  But since I won't be seeing you much during break-"
    "What?" asked Willow.
    "I'm staying with Riley most of the week.  I thought you knew."
    "No.  No I didn't.  I'll just have to chill with Xander."
    "Xander...is going to be staying with Anya...you know how his family is...  And Giles is going to be with Olivia, which is so cute.  But they're all coming to dinner."
    "Well, Amy," said Willow, "I guess it's just going to be you and me, huh?"
    "Why?  Why are you doing this to me?  I thought you liked me," said the watching Willow.
    "I told you before.  These are just the shadows of the things that have been.  They are what they are.  Do not blame me."
    "Leave me alone!"  And with that, Willow was back in her own bed.

*****

    There was something moving around in her bedroom.  Willow didn't move, she was too scared.  There was a strange eerie light coming from under the door of...her closet.  Screwing her courage, she slid her feet into her slippers and padded over to the closet.  She opened the door just a crack and peeked in.
    "Come in, and know me better man!"
    With a frightened squeak she jumped back, slamming the closet door shut.  "I must be going crazy," she whispered.  "That was...Larry...In my...closet.  Not only Larry, but a whole feast!  In my closet!   And where did all my clothes go?"  Well, almost all her clothes.   She had the distinct feeling that the shirt he was wearing was highly familiar.   "Okay, so...I'm crazy.  Might as well play along, right?  If I'm that nuts, it's not like he's just going to go away, might as well see what he wants."
    She threw the door open, and was once again greeted with a resounding, "Come in, and know me better man!  I am the ghost of Christmas present."
    "I've been saying this all night!  Hate to break it to you, Larry, but I'm not Christian."
    He surveyed her closely.  "You're not a man, either.   Nobody's perfect."
    "Right," said Willow.  "You do realize you're in my closet."
    "An ironic twist of fate, I know, but soon remedied."   He came towards her, taking her hand.
    "We're not gunna' fly, are we?  'Cause that's just a little too weird for my taste."  But they were already outside, standing firmly on the ground.
    "May I welcome you to Christmas morning?  --Sorry, they make me say that."
    Sure enough, as Willow looked around her, the sun was shining and everyone was out and about.  "Merry Christmas!" chorused voices from all around them.  Presents were piled high in people's arms.  Willow couldn't help but smile at all the excited smiles on the children going past.  "Is this what Christmas is really like?" she asked.
    "You mean you didn't know?" asked Larry.
    "I told you, Larry.  My family's Jewish.  On Christmas we go to the movies and eat Chinese food."
    "Do you really?"  He laughed.
    "So, is everyone this happy at Christmas?"  And then she got an idea.  "Larry!"
    "What?" he asked loudly, caught off guard.
    "Can you show me my friends?  I want to see Buffy, and everyone!"  Larry smiled and nodded, and in a blink they were in Buffy's house.   Buffy was singing Christmas carols with her Mom and Dawn.  Every one of them was smiling widely.  "Hi, Buffy!" said Willow.  No one stopped.
    Larry rolled his eyes.  "They can't hear you."
    "Oh," she said, disappointed.  Soon, the doorbell rang, and Dawn ran to get it.
    She followed Xander, Anya, Giles and Riley back into the living room.   "That Xander is fine," said Larry.  "Too bad he never came out."  Willow stared at him out of the corner of her eye.
    After hugs all around, Ms. Summers lead them all into the kitchen for a home cooked dinner.  "I'm so glad you could all come for dinner again," she said.  "But where's Willow?"
    Buffy couldn't look her mother in the eye.  "She wasn't invited," said Anya.
    The look Buffy's mother gave her could have frozen the Sahara.   "Well, she was so grumpy when I asked her last year, I thought I'd just save us both the aggravation."
    Giles, a little tipsy from the champagne that was served with dinner, began to giggle.  Dawn thought the sight of the drunk Englishman was hilarious, and soon they had the whole table laughing.
    Willow looked at them, hurt.  She thought they were laughing at her.  "I want to leave," she told Larry.
    "But it isn't even time for the gifts."
    "Please," she asked.
    She found herself standing in a dirty park.  "Larry, why are we here?"
    "You said you wanted to see everyone."
    "But this isn't even Sunnydale."
    "But I think you know him."
    A small statured young man came into view, shivering a little in the cold.  His clothes were ragged, but he carried a bag full of food with him to the little camping grill.  With that, he began to make himself Christmas dinner, a frozen TV supper.  "We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year," he sang.
    Willow fought back the tear in her eye.  "He looks like he's doing okay on his own, doesn't he Larry?  His van's just over there.  If I know him, he's got it set up all cozy on the inside too."
    "What makes you think you know him?" asked Larry.   "He had told you he'd changed while he was away, but you barely gave him a chance to show you how much."
    "What?" asked Willow, aghast.
    "Come on, it's time to take you back," he said, reverting to his calm nature.
    "You can't do this to me!  Just show me this and then take me away!  What's going to happen to him?"
    "I don't know," said Larry.  "They only tell me about the here and now.  As far as the future, I can only guess."
    "And your guess?" she asked quietly.
    "It doesn't look good."
    As the park faded around them, Willow watched Oz until the last.

*****

    Willow woke up to a sharp poking in her back.  "Come on, sweetcakes, we've got lots to do."
    She rolled over and gazed into the eyes of...who was this guy?   There was a strange guy, not just in her room, but in her BED!  So, she did what any normal girl would do.  She screamed for all she was worth.
    "I wouldn't do that if I were you, missy."
    A very groggy looking Sheila Rosenberg stumbled into her daughter's room. "Honey, what's wrong?  It's three in the morning."
    "There's a man in my room!"  The stranger sauntered around Willow's room, looking dismayed.
    "Where?" screamed Mrs. Rosenberg, running in front of her daughter in an effort to protect her long lost virtue.
    "Mom, he's right in front of you!"
    Sheila looked at her daughter disapprovingly and checked her forehead for signs of fever.  "You've been hanging around with that Bunny Summers again, haven't you?  And her Mom is so normal..."
    "Mom, this is serious!"
    "I'm sure it was just a dream," she said dismissively as she walked away.
    Willow stared at him.  "You're not gunna' hurt me, right?"
    "Nah.  Sit down."
    She did, gladly, seeing as how she was no longer sure her legs would support her.  "Who are you?" she managed to gasp.
    "Me?  I am the ghost of Christmas Past.  You must be Willow."
    "So...you're the ghost of Christmas Past?"
    "That's some title, huh?  Just call me Doyle."
    "Okay, but...no offense...isn't the ghost of Christmas Past supposed to be all scary and foreboding?"
    Doyle smiled indulgently.  "This better?"  Blue spikes protruded from his now green face.  Willow's scream came out as a strangled "eep."  "What are you doing here?"
    He let the demon melt away.  "Everyone's got something to atone for.  I'll tell you, if I knew then what I know now...eh, I'd probably do the same things.  So, lets get a move on."
    "Where are we going?"
    "That parts a surprise, sweetcake."
    He held her hand and the world got dark and cold.  "What is this place?" asked Willow, but no answer cut through the ceaseless dark.   "Where are we going?"  The words bounded off of unseen walls, but that echo was the only reply.
    She landed roughly in the snow, shivering on all fours, in nothing but her nightgown.  Doyle stood upright beside her, but for all he did and said, he might have been absent.  Where was the jovial Irishman in her bedroom just moments ago?   Willow climbed, rough and unsteady, to her feet.  "What are we doing here?"  The apparition never spoke a word, just pointer her gaze through the thinning darkness.
    A cold lump lay in the snow in front of her, the shape barely identified as human.  It was asleep, curled up like a dog.  Needles and plastic bags littered the ground around it's body.  As Willow watched, it began to twitch in its sleep like a retired hound dreaming of the chase, except instead of muffled barks, words came from his mouth.  "Coming home...she's gone...not yours...Willow."
    Maybe it was only her imagination, but the wind seemed to grow colder as she suddenly realized it was Oz.  But where was his van?  Where was his food? All of his money had gone into herbs for keeping the beast in check, she reasoned.
    "No," said Doyle, glaring at the witch with cold eyes.   "They're drugs."
    "Medicine..."
    "No."
    A man in uniform came by, making his rounds, or maybe just taking the long way home.  He woke Oz, who no longer tried to control the animal inside. He was hungry, he charged.  The bullet caught him off guard.   Blood soaked the pure white snow in exponentially growing kaleidoscope images of red.
    Willow dropped to her knees beside him, trying to hold him, to stop the blood, but every time she reached, her hands passed right through him, as if he were already a ghost.  The officer dropped his gun in shock and ran home to the comfort of his wife.
    Oz looked up, right into his eyes and smiled.  "I still love you, Willow."  The white steam coming from his mouth slowed to a stop, Willow was frozen in place.
    "Poor little guy.  I knew him well."
    "Take me away from here.  I don't know what you expect me to do.  I couldn't help him.  I mean, I couldn't even touch him."
    "What do I expect you to do?  *I* don't expect you to do anything, princess.  It's them up there that expect something.  I'm just the messenger, honey."
    "Take me out of here.  I want to go home."
    "Sure thing."
    When Willow saw Tara through the fog, she breathed a sigh of relief.   She was home.  It was all a dream.  But as the fog cleared around them, she realized this wasn't their home, even though Tara was maneuvering around it as if it was her own.  "What's going to happen to her?"  But again, Doyle had fallen silent.
    "Momma!  Momma!"  A strawberry blonde bounded into the room and jumped into Tara's arms.
    "Hello!" said Tara in a surprised voice.  She shot a look at the other Willow, who was standing in the doorway with a hopeful smile on her face.
    "Well?"
    "Willow, you can't just magic us a daughter.  We've discussed this.  What about social security?  What happens when she's the only kid in school without a father?  Who's she going to call Mom?"
    "I'm not sending her back, Tara.  She's our own flesh and blood."
    "She's not our flesh and blood.  She's nothing.   Look."  With a wave of her hand, Tara made their daughter disappear.   "We don't need to complicate things.  Just the two of us.  It's for the best."
    "I guess," said Willow.
    The Willow watching looked at Doyle.  "What about the girl?"
    "There are other universes for her."
    And the world faded to black.

*****

    Willow woke up slowly.  It took her a minute to realize that she was really awake.  She was in her own room, in her own house.  Downstairs, she could hear her mother cooking breakfast.  That is, if cooking is really the right word for tossing Eggos in the toaster oven.
    It was a crisp, clear morning, and Willow smiled at it.  She heard the phone ring somewhere in the distance, and a moment later her father's voice called up to her.  "Willow, phone!"
    "Hello?" asked the redhead into the receiver.
    "M-merry Christmas, Willow!"
    And suddenly, the previous night's memories crashed around her.   "Merry Christmas, Tara.  But I'm not Christian.  I'm Jewish."
    "That's okay.  Even Jesus was Jewish.  Nobody's perfect."
    "Tara, I, ah...I have to stop at Buffy's today for dinner, and I have some things to do in the meantime."
    "Oh, well, o-okay.  I h-have some things to do today too, so we can celebrate tomorrow.  Okay?"
    "Actually, I, ah...well...I'm...I don't exactly know how to say this, but I think we...well, I...need a little time to figure things out.  I'm not saying...what I'm saying is just...I don't know what I'm saying."
    "You want to b-break up with me?"
    "No, Tara.  I'm not saying that.  It's just...complicated."  Tara sniffed noisily on the other side of the line.   "I've got some things to figure out, but when I get it straight, I promise, you'll be the first to know."

*****

    That night, Willow had Christmas dinner with her friends, and she even sang some Christmas carols.  It didn't matter if she was Jewish, because the holiday is just as much about sharing your time with the ones you love as it is about any religion.
    After everyone had gone home, she made her way silently back down the street.  Oz wasn't in Sunnydale anymore.  He might not even be in America anymore.  How could she hope to find him?
    "Mom!  Mom!" she shouted, bursting through the door, brain boiling with a new idea.  "Where's dad's atlas?"

*****

    The door was locked, the herbs scattered, the incantations begun.   The atlas flew open, rising into the air in front of her.  Pages fluttered back and forth at a maddening pace.  Then it slammed to the floor, a spot on the map glowing a pulsating white light.
    "Seventeen miles out of town.  I can get there.  It'll be dark, but I can get there.  Mom!  I'm going out!"

*****

    "We wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year," he sang.
    "Hey," said Willow, touching his shoulder gently.  He jumped.  "Merry Christmas."
    "Willow...I'm dreaming again."
    "No, Oz.  It isn't a dream.  I was wondering...what are you doing for new year?"
    "Willow, you know I can't."
    "So...you'd rather just-just stay here and g-go crazy a-and stop caring and lose control, and just-just kill a cop in a drug induced rage or something?"
    "Will?"  He looked around, not entirely sure what to do.
    "Look, I'm not saying everything is suddenly just going to be the way it was," said Willow, after taking a few moments to calm down.   "Everything's changed, I know that.  It's just, well, it's got to be better for you than this is.  I care what happens to you"
    "You care.  And don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for that.   But do you love me?"
    "Oz...I don't think I...no, I know that I never stopped loving you."
    "And Tara was a figment of my imagination, caused by military hallucinations?"
    "Oz, you know she's real.  And I love her too.  But... I'm not in love with her."
    "And you're in love with me?"
    "Yes.  No.  I don't know.  I was.  I can be again.  Maybe.  I want to be. I think."
    "Why do you suddenly care so much?"
    "I always cared.  I just didn't know I cared.  Oz, please, just, come home with me, get warmed up, get some good food in you.   Then...we'll see."
    "And Tara?"
    "We'll see."
    "We'll see," he repeated, as if it were natural.
    "Come on, Oz.  Let's go home."
    "Home," he repeated, taking the hand she offered.   "I've missed that."